Nearly HALF of Chapecó’s people witnessed the funeral, waving with flashlights and candle lights, for the 19 players and 6 coaches (with total people deceased at 71) who were killed flying to the finals of Copa Sudamericana to face the Colombian team, Atlético Nacional. The latter, shocked, graciously requested the South American Football Confederation award the Chapecoense, AKA Chape - the trophy as a “posthumous homage to the victims.” This has been done.
The old goalie, Nivaldo, had been instructed to stay home and prep for the return match. He’s alive. The young, up-and-comer keeper, Danilo, who over a week ago, came up with a big save against Argentine club San Lorenzo - was on the flight. He’s dead.
Players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follmann, who has had part of his right leg amputated, and Helio Zampier reportedly survived the crash, a crash described as one commentator as “gliding into oblivion’ what with no fuel or electricity...
And one of the survivors was found by an alert do-one-last-check policeman AFTER the official search had been temporarily stopped due to bad weather.
Why has this team so captured the world’s imagination and attention?
Well, if it wasn’t the simple “playing for us” it surely was the team’s seemingly insurmountable rise from 4th division in 2008 to Série A a few years later. (And during parts of that period it had been broke.) And if it wasn’t the team’s incorruptibility, unlike BRAZIL’s soccer leadership, what with José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, being arrested in Switzerland on corruption charges, or Marco Polo Del Nero being indicted by America’s Justice Department on corruption charges – it was that the team was efficiently competent, winning against clubs with deeper pockets – while stocked with players, most of whom had no international fame, and all of whom who had never earned a spot on the Brazil National Team roster. Heck, its best scorer, Bruno Rangel, was a 34-year-old journeyman with more than a dozen stops in his soccer career.
“The Champion Is Back” chanted supporters as the military brought coffins into the Arena Condá, a small green-and-white concrete stadium – thus immortalizing this team.
So the 210,000 tail-of-a-town is wagging the over-200 million big-dog country of Brazil and the canine is crushed. The town’s city hall declared a 30-day period of mourning. Local schools were temporarily closed and even Christmas doings there will not be celebrated. (What makes these reactions even more heartfelt is that the town loves this team, though none of its players came from it.) This mostly agricultural area of the state of Santa Catarina is withdrawing into itself, reaping only sadness from sown seeds of such promise.
It has been nearly decided that the team will have its spot for the next three seasons in Brazil’s top league-guaranteed, with athletes being loaned to the team for free, for next season. And Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, Ronaldinho, has reportedly offered to play for the squad next season. At no charge.
From Brazil’s champion soccer team, Sao Paolo’s Palmeiras, asking the Brazilian Football Confederation if its players can wear Chapecoense colors for the last match of the season to Colombia’s Medellin filling its 40,000 seat-stadium with citizens in a “massive display of soccer solidarity” the team has struck a sad, but powerful chord. (Brazil was very appreciative Colombia’s outpouring of sympathy, twittering with the hashtag #GraciasColombia.)
The future? Chapecoense is/was/will be a community club. So community, not chicanery, will prevail again and honesty, not hijinks will again be the way of things. The town vows to rebuild the group, basing its hopes on these ennobling and enabling characteristics plus those of unity, transparency, and competency. It is sure it can again be toast of the town, and the belle of the Brazilian fùtbol ball.
Now, alas, comes controversy.
From the aforementioned electrical failure, radioed to controllers at 10 PM local time, to the BAe146 regional airliner, Avro RJ85 charter flight, operated by Bolivian charter company, LAMIA, also radioing that it was running out of fuel – thus requesting a priority landing - surely this reaction – of firing his country’s national aviation authority - by Bolivian President, Evo Morales, would seem an overreaction. But is it? The government is also suing LAMIA. The CEO of the company has been arrested. The pilot on the fateful flight had an ownership position. And one Bolivian Air Traffic controller, Celia Castedo, who claims her warnings were ignored in Bolivia BEFORE the plane had taken off, has fled to Brazil, and seeks asylum there.
The dramatic reaction of the Bolivian government stems from the fact that the company may have disregarded aviation requirements about fueling regulations with respect to flight duration(s).
On the horizon, due to Chapecoense’s winning all 6 of its last 2018 World Cup qualifying matches, giving merriment to this town, before crashing in this high-altitude rugged terrain, was to be this match, the first of a 2-match “home-and-away” showdown, in South America’s second largest club tournament. It was considered with glee to be its most significant battle, its biggest game yet, in the plucky team’s 43 years.
Instead, days after, in the dark of night, in the rain, waited, for caskets, the home-town folk, with kids in clear plastic ponchos huddling close to parents, with some teens singing – all heartbroken, all lost – but finding among their team’s deathly disappearance, some hope...
...that perhaps this catastrophe will help show Brazil, a country many of its citizenry feel has lost its way, epitomized by Operation Car Wash, involving then President Dilma Rousseff’s government and state-run oil company Petrobras (of which she was chairman from 2003-2010) how to find its footing, and how to forge itself anew – by building a proper path, politically and athletically, to values – and victory.
Lord knows, it’s not a free kick. But Brazil – and the world - knows, it’s another shot.